League of Legends: Senna, Appreciation and Criticism

Senna has presented a balance problem from release to early 2020. She’s mostly had changes to her Mist Wraith spawns because of the difference between her support and marksmen roles. She’s created a new “role” in the bottom lane for herself. This is often referred to as “Fasting Senna” where she occupies the role of a carry but does not farm in lane, allowing her to focus on stacks and giving her partner full farm. The patches in 10.6 and 10.8 seemed to keep her in check, with 10.12 even allowing for a marksmen focused buff on Senna.

“So what’s the problem, she’s fine now right?”

A balanced winrate does not indicate how stable the winrate is. A change to itemization could result in a change in winrate. Some champions like Master Yi are often in precarious balance situations due to how well they scale with certains stats. In addition, in solo/duo ranked she has 10% as many marksmen position games compared to support. Obviously with her weakness to tanks and being relatively immobile, she’s harder to play in the marksmen position, but is it possibly a symptom of an unresolved issue with Senna?

We’ll start by looking at her unique design. It’s a BFG (big fucking gun). It’s meant to deal a lot of damage and take a long time between shots. How does this translate to gameplay? It makes her very bursty, when she’s occupying a traditionally sustained damage oriented role.

But why does burst damage versus sustained damage matter? Oftentimes people will use damage per second (dps) to evaluate the damage of a character. Let’s pretend one champion deals 250 damage with each of their four abilities, all with a 10 second cooldown. This results in 1000 damage every 10 seconds, or 100 dps. Now let’s pretend we have another champion who has a basic attack that deals 50 damage and attacks twice per second, this also results in 100 dps. However, despite them having equal damage per second, if they were to duel, the first would always win, because their damage is frontloaded. If they had 2000 health each, the first champion would win just after 10 seconds, whereas the second champion would finally deal 2000 damage at 20 seconds. This is why, generally speaking, a burst champion will actually have relatively lower dps.

So let’s see how they designed Senna. First of all, Senna’s attack speed is extremely low and scales extremely poorly with it. This means when she spends 2600 gold on her Phantom Dancer or any Zeal item of choice, it’s not worth the same amount as it is on, for example, Tristana. Senna does not receive the same value.They also reduced her Critical Strike Damage. She only deals 130% compared to 200%. That’s only 65% as much value from Critical Strikes. Okay, so she will not have a similar DPS to other marksmen. But when you play her in game she still seems to hit like a truck. This is where her passive comes into play with it’s percent current health. This allows her to still have somewhat relevant damage against tanks. It’s also a way of giving her burst that requires a little more commitment than a single auto. In short, Senna has a poor overall DPS compared to other Marksman but has strong bursty short trades, which plays into her heal well.

Percent health in the past has been a touchy subject for players. There were a number of champions released that dealt percent health which then got lumped into the “overloaded” narrative. Percent health is a helpful mechanic so that when a champion falls behind, they can still deal reasonable damage. This “floor” was something that players felt was too strong, as it supposedly would keep these champions in the game even when behind. What players also failed to realize is that it is a great soft “ceiling” as well. Percent health is based on the enemies health, not the user, which means level advantages mean less compared to other abilities. Percent health abilities often do around 8%. Against a 1000hp target, this is only 80 damage. A late game carry might have 2000 hp, still making it only 160 damage. Whereas most damage abilities have somewhere in the 220 base damage range. Looking at Senna specifically, her percent health caps out at 16% current health. Which means in the late game scenario it will deal 320 damage (which is rather high) to a full health 2000hp target, but on average deal closer to the 160 number I mentioned earlier. This percent health mechanic is being used as a limiter on Senna’s power to burst squishier targets.

“You still haven’t talked about this supposed unresolved issue.”

Right, right. This stems back to the percent health I mentioned before, or her guaranteed scalings. Let’s look at her itemization between Marksmen and Support. They both build lethality. More recently they both use Frozen Mallet and Black Cleaver for survivability. The only real difference is the Marksman is able to also afford Muramana and a Last Whisper item because of both gold and slot differences. Effectively, in both roles, Senna is trying to deal damage and apply slows (whether through Glacial Augment or Frozen Mallet). This is a problem because we have roughly the same expected output from two different inputs (marksmen and support). Since there’s a marginal difference in output while taking the smaller input, we ended up with the fasting Senna issue. Senna’s guaranteed value, or floor value, is quite high. The numbers tweaks seemed to cause the damage difference to matter enough that we largely don’t see fasting Senna anymore. Riot seems to have found the sweet spot; however, I think this is a precarious balance. A tip in either direction, especially considering the expected itemization update, could result in balance issues for Senna.

This is why I would have liked to see a different approach.

I would like to see Support Senna and Marksman Senna have different roles. Have Senna scale better with Critical Strikes. Her passive per target CD could be lowered via Critical Strikes or Critical Chance. This would mean Marksman Senna would deal with tanks better than Support Senna, as Crit Items are more expensive. For reference, a 100 stack Senna will have 45% Critical Strike Chance. They could take the angle like Xayah’s Bladecaller or Caitlyn’s Headshot and have Critical Strike Chance directly influence the damage. I’d prefer to have the Critical Strike Chance interact with the percent health so it’s not oppressive when hitting lower health targets (remember the burst comparison above and how Senna has reduced scalings). Encouraging Crit itemization will result in a more expensive build that is inaccessible to Fasting or Support Senna.

So that’s how I encourage expensive items to be built on Marksman Senna like Infinity Edge, but how do we address the Support Senna. Let’s emphasize some more of the traditional supportive traits, like her heal, shield, and root. I’d like to see Athene’s Unholy Grail or Ardent Censer on her more. Her movespeed and root duration could scale with AP. There’s precedent for movespeed, such as Sona. There’s even precedent for root duration scaling with Pyke. That would be a little heavy handed, but it does already exist. Unfortunately the nature of the BFG holds her back from encouraging something like Nashor’s Tooth due to poor attack speed scaling. Remember that Athene’s Unholy Grail and Ardent Censer are inexpensive items so these would be accessible for a Support Senna build.

The purpose of my suggestions is so that the two different inputs match two different outputs. This isn’t to say lethality can’t be an option for either, as it’s cheap and accessible, but I feel there is a missed opportunity to open up her build and role diversity. I also think pushing in this direction makes it less likely for there to be unintended “abuse” cases like fasting Senna. I’m not intrinsically against these emergent strategies. We have Sona Lux bot lane appearing, with clear weaknesses and strengths. We may even see Vel’Koz or Zyra paired with Sona or a tank in the future. The difference between Senna and these other cases is that Senna was fulfilling carry and supportive roles at the same time. My suggested changes narrow the focus and have Senna choose more between the damage and supportive profiles. Again, these are preemptive suggestions as Senna is fairly balanced currently.

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I’m a game developer and game designer and write about whatever catches my interest.